I was stood in a small room, one of many small rooms crammed with countless items, and on every surface around me was a paperback book. On each book, a name. Each name, a writer.

There’s a website called Jottify, a site for writers to upload work, get feedback, even sell what they’ve written. I joined, and was surrounded by snippets of people’s writing, comments, discussions, small notes about where this piece came from. A name on each. A writer.

I’m stumbling here because my reaction was short lived. I felt suffocated by the others, the hundreds of others, all writing. By not being special. By being one of many, one more aspiring member to the group. And some of them joke, trade flippant self-deprecation, even express hopes.

I’ve rarely been able to see past the face which other people wear for the world. If someone acts confident, or brash, or hopeful, I see only that and haven’t ever learned to maintain the knowledge that this is just what I see, not everything that there is.

So when I shirk from uploading because of deeply hidden hopes that I might be successful enough to need to worry about copyright and ownership of my ideas, a nakedly egotistic place to be, but I see everyone else clamouring to get their ideas up and in the public eye, I only see my own weakness.

Why can’t I complete something and get it online, without constantly revising the same section? Why do I simultaneously fear that what I am doing isn’t good enough, isn’t different enough to be noticed or awarded or lauded or successful or… Why can’t I just get on?

Recently, though, I’ve been writing on rotation. I have around half a dozen projects on the go, and I’ve been avoiding my instinct to write small sections and then endlessly revise by moving on to the next project as soon as I flag or feel that I’m taking the wrong tack.

As a result, I’ve now a handful of projects which I’ve started. This is incredible news. Starting isn’t nearly as hard as completing, but it’s a whole lot harder than just thinking, noting down, going over in my head. Starting something may open a project and all the required effort that involves, but starting means I have something to complete.

This bundle of ideas is going well, most of all because last night I sidestepped my abortive-revision fixation with some help from my better half. I had hand written a section following a typed section, and wanted to redo it all so it was ‘better’. But better would be finished.

So I sat in my studio and, like a drill, reeled up one project after another, tapping out 300 or 400 words before feeling that the whiteheat of newness or challenge had evapourated and the thinky-thinky was closing in to restrict my freedom of imagination.

Because that’s the trick – keeping your imagination just ahead of your comprehension on a sort of curve of self-awareness, always ensuring that my mind is free enough to embrace the rattling ideas I have circulating these projects and see where they lead to, without my rational side questioning if they’re worthy of attention.

Is it trust that I struggle with, or just a simple need to know right now that what I’m following is leading to quality, to success, to fame? It doesn’t really matter because through this rotation drill I can avoid any judgement call and keep my creative mind malleable, able to dream or grasp at nearby shiny objects.

In a way, I guess it’s putting my imagination on high operation, demanding that it solve problems instantly and constantly make things up on the hoof, that I keep running with my eyes on the horizon, not on what is beneath my pacing feet.

There are several moments at work where I find myself having to operate on naked wits, having to reach swiftly and without questioning for the experience and knowledge I know about an area and quickly reprocess this so I can talk about it with others. Some of which actually know what they’re talking about.

You could say I have the gift of the gab, the banter, the ability to soak up whatever is around me and then be thrown into a situation where I have to survive on that without any preparation. So it’s no surprise that my imagination works in a similar way. It’s a surprise that I don’t let it.

I hope that the revolving writing thing will eventually help me to better suspend my judgement-reflex, to allow my imagination to flow longer and with more momentum. I was about to say it’s an effort to get going, but that’s because I was fearing that constant self-editor, that over-the-shoulder questioner always asking if I was taking the right direction.

Without that fear, without that suffocating need to know what was right, what was best, what was going to be successful without ever even running with something or letting it complete, without all of that I can see that I’ll have huge redrafts and editing work to do. But I will also have something I’ve never had before – finished, completed work which can be polished and improved and taken to the next level.

Because once I’ve followed a train of thought to the very end, once I’ve unleashed my imagination to roam freely wherever it pleases, picking up everything interesting and beguiling and intriguing along the way, I think I’ll reach the part of writing where I am strongest, where my career has prepared me for – editing.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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